Nicolas Jaar’s duo Darkside delivers solid debut album

Alexander McCall

Progressive rock, as it’s normally defined, has been around since the late ’60s when bands such as King Crimson and Pink Floyd began taking the psychedelic pop of that era to expansive, bizarre realms.

The most popular music to come out of the prog movement – namely Genesis and Yes – has since been derided for its self-indulgence and absurd thematic concepts.

Yet, the sprawling expressiveness of the genre still appeals to many listeners. Most exciting is when modern bands find ways to translate prog’s adventurousness into new forms and genres.

Darkside, the recently formed duo of acclaimed minimal techno producer Nicolas Jaar and guitarist Dave Harrington, have done just that with their excellent debut album “Psychic.”

Expanding on the style of their previously released “Darkside EP,” “Psychic” toes a fascinating balance between bluesy progressive rock a la Pink Floyd and warped techno.

Jaar’s previous work ran the gamut from spaced-out jazz to throbbing house music, but here his eclecticism is sharper and more coherent.

Harrington’s wonderful guitar arpeggios throughout the album draw heavily from Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, but overall, the music sounds more like drugged-up disco when matched with pounding, precise dance beats.

However, the style with which these grooves are stitched together on the album is transparently similar to progressive rock.

The 11-minute opener, “Golden Arrow,” is a prime example. It takes four minutes of meandering synthesizer ambience before drums kick in, but it makes sense in context. Without the drama and mood setting of those opening minutes, the song’s explosive climax wouldn’t be nearly as effective.

More progressive is the way Darkside develops melodic motifs throughout the album. They take time to tease each guitar or synth line out and try them in several different contexts. Even the shorter, poppier track “Paper Trails” uses this technique.

Despite the expansiveness and nonlinear structures, “Psychic” never becomes tiresome due to the group’s exquisite attention to detail. Additionally, the album’s second half is a blast to dance to, as it leans toward the percussion-heavy techno on which Jaar made his name.

If there’s one thing Darkside could improve, it might be the use of vocals. Although “Paper Trails” finds Jaar using his trademark, cynical-sounding baritone, many of the songs feature his husky falsetto, and those performances aren’t nearly as confident.

Overall, Darkside’s progressive fusion of genres is totally unique and fascinating, though this listener suspects they’ll develop further as a unit and maybe live up to the Floydian legacy inherent in their name.

Rating: three-out-of-five stars

REVIEW: COLIN MOORE, Senior A&E Reporter